V.S.Srinivasa Sastri (Part 10) - The Epic Poet and his Influence on Sastri

A Request

Once when Srinivasa Sastri was serving as the Vice Chancellor of the Annamalai University, he visited Bangalore to spend his summer in the city. Dr. C.B Ramaraya’s house was vacant and Sastri decided to spend a couple of months there. One afternoon, he was discussing a certain political matter with me. It was probably about a few laws that were imposed upon the Indians in 1925. We discussed about the economics of the plan for a couple of hours. We thought that the discussion was sufficient for the time-being and decided to roam around for a bit. As we headed out, Sastri said

Sastri: "Sir, I will give you a book. Please go through a certain section of the book and let me know its gist".

Me: "I will gladly do that, sir"

I wonder what I thought back then! We were talking politics and I thought Sastri would give me some work on political science or probably a political essay. We went around to breathe in fresh air and around seven in the evening, as we stepped down from a motor vehicle,  Sastri said – “Sir, please don’t forget what I mentioned to you. I will give you the book”. With these words, he went into his room, brought a book out and handed it over to me. I have put a piece of paper as a marker for the section I am interested in”. The place was dark and it was time for Sastri’s supper. I didn’t cast even as much as a glance at the book and brought it home.


My Astonishment

I thought I would take a look at the book at leisure after my dinner that night. It was a book authored by a renowned philosopher by name George Santayana. One of the chapters had the title “Some meanings of the word Is”. The chapter ran to about seven pages. I started reading the book at ten in the night and when it stuck twelve, I hadn’t even managed to finish three pages. As my eyes were badly strained, I switched off the lights and put the book aside. I couldn’t catch sleep. The reasoning provided in the book was that mind-boggling!

The next morning even as I entered Sastri’s house, he asked me

“What sir? Have you brought the abstract that you were supposed to prepare?”

Me: “I read three pages and it took me two to three hours to do so much. This is a hard nut to crack. I will take a look at it again today.”

Three days rolled on and on the fourth day I said – “I have finished reading the essay. The author says that the word ‘is’ has seven meanings and lists examples for each. However, I have been able to comprehend only about three or four of them. The other three meanings that he talks about are beyond my understanding”

Sastri: "Try giving a shot once again."

Me: "I don’t know! I will not take a look at it for a fortnight at least. I have had enough of it."

Sastri: (with a laugh) “I thought it was difficult only for me!”


Inquisitiveness and Contemplation

I narrated the above incident only as an example to demonstrate how Sastri’s mind worked.

It’s hard form me to say if Sastri had actually arrived at a clear understanding of philosophy. He had been greatly influenced by a scientist by name Huxley when he was about twenty five to thirty years of age.  Once, I remember him telling me this –

“It is Huxley who corrected my thought process. He has written a book on the English Philosopher Hume and it is published in the series ‘English Men of Letters’. It is after I read the work that my thoughts turned to that direction”


Influence of the Epic Poet

Though he had told me this, I suspect that there were two other major sources that influenced his thought. The first was mahākāvya and the other was his daily interaction with the world. His heart was naturally inclined towards classical poetry. He had lost himself completely to ancient poets of India such as the authors of the Epics Rāmāyaṇa
and Mahābhārata, Kālidāsa and Bhartṛhari. His mental landscape was sculpted by these giants. Whenever he was amidst a political debate or was discussing a social issue, even if he was passionately rendering his points, when someone recalled a phrase from one of the great poets, Sastri spontaneously forgot all the force and would exclaim “Aha!” His mind would turn serious. He would then contemplate upon what he had just spoken.

He had visited many countries, and had witnessed the socio-political difficulties with his own eyes. He had had discussions with the leaders there. It was because of his vast experience that many ideas and perspectives which others could not see would occur to Sastri in no time. His experience had taught him the manner in which different human traits would react under different circumstances.

Thus, his emotions and intellect were greatly influenced by the external world.

An example –


Beauty of Nature

One evening, about three to four of my friends and I visited the Minto Eye Hospital along with Sastri. We went with the intention of meeting Dr. B.K. Narayana Rao there. Sastri happened to look at the sky just by chance. What did he see there? He saw the rising moon in the east and the setting Sun in the west. As soon as he saw month at the same time, his legs stopped walking. He exclaimed – “Aha! How special sir! I feeling like seeing this more and more”. Dr. Narayana Rao came out of the hospital at the same time. He fetched Sastri into the hospital and took him up the stairs, slowly and carefully. He said that the beauty of the evening could be perceived there even better. Sastri was thrilled.

He narrated the following then:

“Once when I was in South Africa, the people there asked me to deliver a lecture on our country’. I agreed and spoke for about half an hour. I quoted the following verse as a part of my lecture –

यात्येकतोऽस्तशिखरं पतिरोषधीनां
    आविष्कृतोऽरुणपुरःसर एकतोऽर्कः ।
तेजोद्वयस्य युगपद्व्यसनोदयाभ्यां
    लोको नियम्यत इवात्मदशान्तरेषु ॥

yātyekato'staśikharaṃ patiroṣadhīnāṃ

    āviṣkṛto'ruṇapuraḥsara ekato'rkaḥ

tejodvayasya yugapadvyasanodayābhyāṃ

    loko niyamyata ivātmadaśāntareṣu   (Śākuntalam, 4-2)


The moon sets behind the mountain on one side,
and on the other side Sun rises with his tender rays of the morning
When the two light emitting bodies, which govern the world, have their ups and downs,
what can be said about common men like us


Just as the Sun and the Moon brighten the world at the same time, our intellect should be blended with affection for all beings. Only when the two work together will there be peace and happiness in our lives”

Sastri continued – The audience was awestruck by this emotion of Indians. Their applause went on for over ten minutes! The people there do not have the fortune of witnessing these kind of scenes at all. This is a blessing for your land.”

This is how Sastri’s heart worked.

To be continued...

This is the tenth part of the English translation of the Second essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 6) – Halavaru Saarvajanikaru.



Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.



Arjun is a writer, translator, engineer, and enjoys composing poems. He is well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, English, Greek, and German languages. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature. He has deep interest in the theatre arts and music. Arjun has (co-) translated the works of AR Krishna Shastri, DV Gundappa, Dr. SL Bhyrappa, Dr. SR Ramaswamy and Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh

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